A Very Purrculiar Practice: Full house!
Copyright 1997, Sarah Hartwell

"What's this note on the bathroom door?" wailed hubby, who had just got in from work, "Open carefully - make sure you don't let the cat escape"

"I've had to put a cat in there for the time being, only till I can get him down the shelter tomorrow or the day after," I called back up to him.

"Is it safe to go in?" he asked, with a quavering voice, "Last time you did that I ended up shaving in the kitchen because you stuck a blasted feral in there. And the time before, you forgot to tell me that Turkish Vans like water and I ended up with a cat in the bath with me!"

In fact Joe, the Turkish Van, had ended up in the bath with each of us over a three day period and when his original breeder had arrived to collect him, it was amazing that the cat had not shrunk or dissolved, or that his coat was not three sizes too small for him. He had also developed a habit of sitting in the basin while hubby was trying to shave and staring endearingly up hubby's nose as my near-sighted partner peered into the shaving mirror.

"He's perfectly safe," I retorted, "but can you leave the heater on as he needs the extra warmth."

The only reply was a harrumphing noise. Himself was well used to finding cats stashed away in various rooms of the house or negotiating a lounge turned into an obstacle course by several kitten pens whose inhabitants were (a) being tamed, (b) being nursed, (c) 'on hold' so that their new owner could pick them up at a time when the shelter itself was closed, (d) 'on hold' till there was space for them at the shelter or (e) awaiting transfer to a pedigree rescue centre who could only pick them up in the evening. The house generally resembled the transit lounge of Heathrow airport, lacking only a destination board giving gate numbers and boarding times. Sometimes he couldn't walk more than five paces without tripping over a cat which he didn't recognise and which prompted him to ask "is that one of ours?" or "I didn't know we had a black cat".

Several moments passed and no crashing noises emanated from upstairs so I began to relax. After about half an hour I was beginning to wonder if hubby was all right shut in the bathroom with an extremely ancient and doddery cat, found emaciated and soaking in Central Park. Maybe Methusaleh was a man-hater and had hubby pinned up against the wall, unable to escape. Maybe something awful had happened, though I couldn't imagine anything worse than the young feral (okay, so I had described it as a wee bit nervous before himself went in to shave) who bounced from wall to wall as himself tried to shave. I went and knocked quietly on the bathroom door.

"Are you okay in there?" I asked in my best stage whisper.

"You can come in if you like," he replied in an equally quiet voice, "but can you do it quietly please?"

Oh grief, I decided, something has happened. Expecting the worst, I entered the bathroom as quietly as possible. Maybe hubby was standing statue-still while a wild-eyed ginger geriatric cat with bandy legs and a breathing problem was circling him and about to close in for the kill. Maybe he and the cat had come face to face and were still staring each other out over territorial rights to the loo (the danger being that hubby was still trying to uncross his eyes).

Himself was sitting on the lid of the loo, with Methusaleh draped fast asleep across his lap. Both husband and cat were wearing dopey expressions and hubby was tickling behind one of Methusaleh's ears. A cat comb full of shed fur indicated the reason for the long silence and Methusaleh's blissful expression, not to mention hubby's misty-eyed expression.

"He wanted me to pick him up for a cuddle, so I sat down and decided I might as well comb him since he looked like a punk rocker. I didn't want to wake him up again," explained hubby sheepishly.

"We can't keep him," I said firmly, this phrased generally being hubby's stock-in-trade when encountering me cuddling an in-transit cat.

"He doesn't look like he's got long left, wouldn't it be better for him to stay here instead of spending his last weeks in the geriatrics' enclosure?" he asked, even though he knew that the geriatrics' pen was a five star pussycat Hilton with all mod cons (barring flushing litter trays and mini-bar).

The last time we kept a geriatric who "didn't have long" was when I talked hubby into letting me have a 19 year old tortie with a breathing problem, heart murmur and a benign tumour in the mouth. The cat finally decided to move on to the great cat basket in the sky several years later, by which time we had begun to believe she was immortal and wee making provisions for her in our wills (despite the fact that we were only in our thirties at the time).

Okay, so Methusaleh pottered around the house for a few more months on the grounds that "winter's coming and all he wants is a bed, food and cuddles" before he decided to call it a day ... by which time the vet had made a tidy fortune out of us for sundry minor ailments and we had rearranged the house so that it was more to Methusaleh's liking AND bought shares in a Scottish salmon farm.

There was also that time when hubby arrived home saying, "Darling, there's a cat in the porch, is it ours?" and I really didn't know whether I'd stowed a cat in there or whether a neighbour's cat had popped in for a nap.

Or even "I've invited Brian down from Scotland for the weekend."

"Does he like cats?" I asked.

"I don't know .."

"Can you check to see if he's allergic to them?"

"He can't be, I told him we have cats around, why?"

"Well I've got a pregnant one in the guest room, but I can't get a pen for it until next Friday."

Brian arrived to discover he had to sleep with the bedroom door firmly shut and share the room with a cat. which appeared ready to produce a litter at any point.

"How did you sleep?" I asked our bleary-eyed guest in the morning.

"Not too bad," he said, "Though I'm not used to cats in such close proximity."

He stayed for three days and it wasn't until a week later that I found out that he'd spent each night in abject terror of the seemingly friendly cat which had jumped on his chest each night and growled at him all night long.

"Growled?" I asked, unable to believe that Cilla would growl at anyone.

"Like this," he said, making a rumbling sound down the phone: Prrrr, prrrr, prrrr.

"She was purring, she liked you."

"Purring? I spent all night half-awake, convinced she was going to go for my throat. She kept digging her claws into my neck while she made that noise."

"She was kneading, it's a sign of affection. I usually pull the covers up so their claws don't dig into me when they do that."

"I didn't dare move, I thought she was going to go for me. I thought it was a full moon or something as she got off me and back in her basket each morning."

Poor Brian, he had spent all night with an affectionate cat on his chest, purring and kneading and telling him she loved him and he was lying stock still, convinced she was going to maul him if he moved a muscle. No doubt she thought he was a considerate human for not dislodging her!

Much of the time the house resembled a five star cat hotel with a guest in each room and me providing room service and trying to appease the resident cats who were used to seeing heavy through traffic but who still liked to remind me that it was their home too and they wouldn't mind use of the other rooms from time to time. There was, for instance, a nice central heating pipe run in the back bedroom which had been inaccessible due to something grey and growly behind the shut door. The drinking fountain (dripping tap) in the bathroom was out of order thanks to some loudmouthed tabby which we had had the temerity to install in said room. There was a black-and-white something, which might or might not have been a cat since it resembled a badly snagged cushion, sleeping in a large plant tub in the dining room which was very inconvenient for the resident cats who liked to use the Yucca plant as a scratching post. And to cap it all, the cosy hidey hole under the table in the box room was yet again unavailable due to some scaredy pedigree thing which, in my own cats' opinion was not a 'real cat' at all - the fact that the scaredy pedigree thing was a Himalayan which had been de-matted and was wearing a baby's knitted pullover meant that even I had to agree, it didn't much resemble a real cat and it was probably suffering from mortal embarrassment rather than fear of anything (anything other than being laughed at by our own intact-coated cats).

Hubby had similar complaints. He couldn't see the TV because of a kitten pen between the sofa and the screen and the kitten pen couldn't go anywhere else because there were two other kitten pens in the living room. The dining room table had been turned into a grooming parlour which meant eating his food off a tray on his lap, a task rendered more difficult by our own cats trying to sit on his lap or steal his food (depending on the contents of the plate) and he felt duty bound to give them a morsel of this or that in case the presence of so many visitors was upsetting them. He couldn't use the computer because the grey growly thing was sleeping on the keyboard and it was a genuinely growly thing which he didn't want to tangle with. He couldn't practice his guitar because the box room contained a Himalayan with a poodle cut and an aversion to acoustic versions of "Stairway to Heaven". He was having to share the bath with a Turkish Van which viewed it as a swimming pool and the downstairs loo had been converted into a cat food cupboard and was piled floor to ceiling with half a dozen 24-packs of Yummy-Puss. And he came home each day, wondering what was going to be in the porch and whether it had to be subdued or bribed in order to secure him safe passage into the house.

"Darling, there's a ginger cat on the kitchen work surface, eating leftover Spaghetti Bolognese. Is it ...?"

"It's one of ours!" I interrupted, "And it's been one of ours for eight years!"

"Just checking," he said huffily, "These days it's hard to be certain any more. That wasn't MY dinner by any chance ...?"

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